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Our reviews of Justified: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray) (published January 1st, 2014), Justified: The Complete First Season (published January 18th, 2011), and Justified: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (published January 3rd, 2013) are also available.
The best new series of 2010 returns for a much-anticipated follow-up…sadly, with mixed results.
Facts of the Case
U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, Live Free or Die Hard) has just wrapped up an eventful homecoming in Kentucky, returning as a U.S. Marshal to the place he called home. Season Two opens with his rival Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, Predators) adrift with no discernible purpose in life; his estranged ex-wife open to the possibility of re-cementing their relationship; and a new antagonist, Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale, Win Win), the matriarch of the most powerful criminal organization in Harlan County.
After a stunning first season, my expectations could not have been higher for Justified's sophomore season.
Perhaps that was my problem.
Season Two is a disappointment, representing a noticeable downturn in quality from the show's inaugural outing. The travails of this installment can be sourced in bewildering choices by the writers, as it pertains to the two most important characters in the mythology: Boyd and Raylan.
First, Boyd. This guy was written so well in Season One, essentially transforming from a shallow bad guy cutout in the pilot, to a mystifying layered creation of gray morality. Walton Goggins is legendary and he had seized onto something truly remarkable; his performance was so good, and the character arc so strong, his true purposes and motivations weren't clear until the season finale. Boyd returns in Season Two as a lost and broken man, which for the first few episodes is pretty great. But he veers quite suddenly in another direction, with a metamorphosis that feels more like the writers were focused exclusively on his endgame rather than the organic development of the character. However, Walton Goggins is too good to not power through clumsy scripting, and the brief Season Three teaser offers some tantalizing footage of what Boyd may be up to. At first blush, it looks pretty kick-ass.
And now, Raylan. I would have happily forgiven the Boyd miscues, if these guys hadn't so utterly mangled one of the very best characters on television. As I think about it now, I'm still hopelessly befuddled as to what compelled the writer's room to take leave of their senses and turn Raylan Givens, gritty, action-oriented Alpha male gunslinger into a witless doormat. This season finds Raylan blindly walking into obvious ambushes, making terrible decisions with regards to his moronic ex-wife, and generally requiring the action of others to bail him out of his inanity. Since when does Raylan Givens allow himself to get suspended from a tree and bludgeoned with a baseball bat?!
If I stand back and take a breath, I can see the virtues of Season Two. Mags is a great character and Margo Martindale deserves serious Emmy consideration for her work with one of the most surprising crime bosses on the small screen. The young actress who plays Loretta is fine too, but her role was built up to be something more than it actually was (e.g. a vessel for a predictable ending). The one-off episodes are solid; preferable, in fact, to their arc-focused counterparts (Art's pursuit of a geriatric criminal is a season high point).
Here's the straight dope: Measured against whatever painful procedural CBS is currently dominating the ratings charts with these days, a weak season of Justified towers over it like a golem staring down on a gnat. But the first season set such a high standard, anything below it is a disappointment. Here's to a new season and the promise of some wrongs righted.
Sony's three-disc Blu-ray set is a thing of beauty, beginning with a perfect slice of visual heaven, a flawless 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen transfer that absolutely belongs in the conversation of best "picture quality of the year." A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track suitably augments the experience, pushing out the gun violence (when it inevitably happens) with aplomb. Extras include HD featurettes looking at the set design ("On the Set of Justified) and the making-of the season ("Clans, Feuds & Apple Pie"). The finest inclusion is producers roundtable headed by Graham Yost talking about the series and the season. Deleted scenes and outtakes round it all out.
I still love Justified dearly, but I'm ready to put this mixed season behind me.
Consider this a slap on the wrist, but you had better learn from your
mistakes, young man.
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Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scenes
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